New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions as one-ton spheres of carbon dioxide gas



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In 2010 New York City added 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (equivalent) to the atmosphere, but that number means little to most people because few of us have a sense of scale for atmospheric pollution.

Carbon Visuals ( and Environmental Defense Fund ( wanted to make those emissions feel a bit more real – the total emissions and the rate of emission. Designed to engage the ‘person on the street’, this version is exploratory and still work in progress. Mayor Bloomberg’s office has not been involved in the creation or dissemination of this video.

NYC carbon footprint:

54,349,650 tons a year = 148,903 tons a day = 6,204 tons an hour = 1.72 tons a second

At standard pressure and 59 °F a metric ton of carbon dioxide gas would fill a sphere 33 feet across (density of CO₂ = 1.87 kg/m³: If this is how New York’s emissions actually emerged we would see one of these spheres emerge every 0.58 seconds.

Emissions in 2010 were 12% less than 2005 emissions. The City of New York is on track to reduce emissions by 30% by 2017 – an ambitious target.

For a set of stills from this movie, see:

For more information see:

Co-director: Chris Rabét (

42 thoughts on “New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions as one-ton spheres of carbon dioxide gas

  1. Its important to note that a "ton of CO2" is not a pile of dirty black dust particles (pollution) that if you if you collected it and scoped in into a big pile it would weights 2,000 pounds. Whenever they show CO2 emissions in the media they show a big factory billowing smoke or an exhaust pipe puffing out some sort of smoke. CO2 is invisible, its not smoke or exhaust. Dry Ice is CO2, Your soda is full of CO2. What you breathe out is CO2. CO2 is plant foot. CO2 is not a pollutant, It's not Carbon Monoxide (the pollutant that comes out your exhaust pipe).

  2. I watched your animation of New York's green house gas emissions about a year ago and it got me thinking about other possibly more viral ways to visualize it.

     I recently read that an average car generates about 1 pound of CO2 per mile, and I started thinking of what that could look like if that weight was instead represented by other types of waste and distributed where it is being generated instead of in a single pile like the video above. It is also hard to relate to a sphere representing the size of 1 ton of CO2, since CO2 is invisible and a lot of people don't even know how many pounds make a ton.

    I think that it is because CO2 is invisible that many people do not realize the quantity of it being produced by our fossil fuel use. What if instead of showing the CO2 volume as 1 ton spheres building up, it is instead represented with the weight of other waste that we are familiar with? Since the CO2 waste is not hauled away like other wastes, what would an animation of the equivalent weight of other wastes look like piling up over time? After thinking about it for a while, I believe that it would be pretty dramatic!

    So here are some ideas for viral video animations of CO2 emissions. I do not have the software or skills to do an animation of this myself, so I decided to tell you and see if you would like to run with it.

    My first idea was to have sewage spilling out of tailpipes and falling from buildings, with puddles forming and pedestrians getting splashed as the traffic goes through the puddles and having it dump down onto people's heads from the buildings. Gross but effective and perhaps viral if done well. However, a pound of liquid is only is only 2 cups of volume and so it may actually take a while for it to accumulate enough to be dramatic.

    Another idea would be to have the equivalent weight of fast food packaging being tossed out of the cars as they drive along and also fluttering down from the buildings, building up in the streets and getting hit and run over by the traffic causing a huge mess. The weight of a fast food meal bag and packaging is less than 2 ounces, so that would be 8 to 10 bags per mile or a bag every 1 to 2 blocks per car! Multiply that by the hundreds of cars per minute in a busy location like New York Times Square and the build up would be quick indeed. New York Times Square is a good location to use because most people have seen it and are familiar with it, it has a lot of traffic, and the buildings around it also use a lot of energy. So lots of CO2 and lots of equivalent weight of waste!

    I know that awareness is beginning to happen (but not fast enough), but because CO2 is invisible I really think many people don't think of it like they do other waste/trash. If trash or sewage is allowed to pile up, it quickly becomes a huge and visible problem. If people started thinking of CO2 emissions the same way, and realized that it too is a waste product but one that has been allowed to "pile up" like uncollected trash or an overflowing toilet maybe that would get people's attention! And the video would go viral….

    So, what do you think?

  3. I think people are completely missing the point when trying to do the math or judge geography. The volume of carbon is happening everywhere all over the world. More in some places and less in others, but it's rapidly growing and it's all spreading through the atmosphere. Why is this even an argument? Why do people miss the point that it's happening and it doesn't stop happening? You can choose to ignore it or deny it all you want but your children's children wont.

  4. This is cool but please go comprehensive: carbon dioxide is always together with carbon monoxide, show us how much CO is emitted, lead, mercury, palladium, and many other metals and heavy metals – be as comprehensive as the advertisements for "comprehensive health insurance THAT NEVER EVER MENTION POLLUTION IN THE AIR, FOOD, WATER. If they insured your lungs and blood stream against it guess where would they be. Especially when the scientific news reach people – pollution causes autism. Study.

  5. I would like to figure the percentage of the planet's total emissions, NYC's 54 million tons a day, represents. I recall a number of 90 million tons a day, for total world pollution. So 90 X 365 days, that's 32,850 million tons for a year. Dividing, I get 0.00164% or thereabouts. Can this be right? Mistake? Maybe wrong inputs. But when I test for population: 8 million Divided by 7 billion, I get 0.00114% as NYC percent of world population.

  6. I would like to figure the percentage of the planet's total emissions, NYC's 54 million tons a day, represents. I recall a number of 90 million tons a day, for total world pollution. So 90 X 365 days, that's 32,850 million tons for a year. Dividing, I get 0.00164% or thereabouts. Can this be right? Mistake? Maybe wrong inputs.

  7. I think this is really important work to give a visual context to scientific data that is really incomprehensible. And I love the sound track! Can't wait for more from this project. Really fantastic. Thank you!

  8. One word – AWESOME!

    I have been working on visualisations of CO2 myself, but am blown away by the representation you/your team have come up with here.

    Concerning, is that if NYC is a leader in GHG reduction, it still looks bad, no offence to the NYC guys/gals or their efforts, just that GHGs need substantial addressing.

  9. This is great work… I think visualization has a much bigger impact than big numbers.

    Would really love to see a Worldwide visualization… with the 'thin blue line' represented as well… I don't think people understand how thin the atmosphere really is, when I tell people if they imagine the Earth was a basketball and the atmosphere is about the thickness of a layer of paint on the basketball they don't believe me.

  10. Sorry, but I do not get any sense this is intended to "support the great work NYC is doing to reduce it's already small footprint." If anything, I got the exact opposite from the …'s after each Time Span, the complete silence during the display of one year's worth of emissions, the end credit to an "environment defense fund", etc. It's still a compelling concept, but if the intent is to commend NYC then that was missed pretty completely.

  11. Your calculations are pretty good, but your geography is a bit off. The basis of our calculation is discussed on the Carbon Visuals web page. The total volume of the pile (including the spaces between the spheres) is 45,412,474,933 m3. The pile is somewhere between a cone (h=r= 3,513m) & a hemisphere (r=2,789m). It stretches from the edge of Brooklyn to somewhere around 52nd St. It doesn't get close to North Bergen.

  12. One of the reasons we chose to show the volume as a pile of individual spheres rather than as one big volume is that the human eye is not very good at judging volume, but is good at judging numbers of things. We accounted for the space in-between the spheres in the calculation. When you pack spheres randomly it turns out that the spheres themselves take up 64% of the space – this is the 'packing density' – so 36% is space between. As one giant sphere, NYC's footprint would be 2.37 miles across.

  13. I think the visualisation is a little misleading, because the artist chose spheres. Especially if you look at the gigantic mountain after a year of emission: nealy 50% of the volume of the mountail is the space inbetween the spheres. Just a mathematical thing, you know. Nothing against the idea to visualize the problem —

  14. Until the cost of housing there comes down and that same housing is updated to be significantly more energy efficient, nothing, NO THING will change.

    Those are simple facts to grasp.

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